You may have heard about the little two-bedroom suburban home in Sunnyvale that sold for $2 million last week, half a million dollars over the asking price. It was listed for two days. There’s a small supply and big demand for homes in the Bay Area. Rents are also crazy high there, and not everyone gets a big enough paycheck, or paychecks as many work more than one job to stay afloat.
Housing here is likewise in high demand and low supply, so the price is up, especially for rentals. Many of us know people living here who work in the Bay Area. Growth has returned to Butte County after a long recession. We see it in Chico and feel it in Paradise. Traffic is up, and the Skyway has become more like a highway.
Isn’t it great? We’ve always been told that growth leads to prosperity, so we welcome growth, if grudgingly. Many of us moved here to not be in the city, to not wake up to traffic reports.
As the story goes, we brought the city with us. Since I moved here in 1989 Chico has more than doubled in population. The graph of growth from 1880 to present is a typical exponential curve, where doubling times shorten. The graph was steepest from 1990 to 2000, but the growth continues. While the population in Paradise and Magalia is fairly flat since about 1990, in Butte Creek Canyon and Butte Valley – both sides of Paradise treasured for its natural beauty – pockets of subdivisions have been popping up, and individual homes along the rivers and ridges continue to be built. It’s lovely, having views of each other’s homes.
But the fish count is down despite the valiant effort of Friends of Butte Creek where the last best run of wild, naturally spawned Spring Run Chinook salmon remains in California. There are constant threats to the survival of salmon runs, despite also being protected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies. All this development and population growth is not easy on the fish.
Without fish, it’s hard to fish successfully. Who wants to live in a world where fish must be stocked from some fish farm and fish are bought and trucked in, so families can pretend that the fake lake has fish – like the rivers used to – on kid’s fishing day? Sad ☹
But we can’t go back. We must keep growing because growth means prosperity, or so we’ve been told over and over again. “Grow or die” is a business mantra, albeit one in question. There’s no scientific basis for the maxim; one can run a business and stay the same size. Many businesses go broke trying to expand. It’s a good business plan to have “flat growth”.
Our language about growth shows our beliefs. In economics “negative growth” is the way to describe something that shrinks. “Flat growth” means staying the same size. Growth is the way forward we believe, and with seemingly unlimited land, water, fertile soil, and cheap energy, it was once true.
Now we have conservation policies and create zoning overlays, so we can preserve and stretch our dwindling and increasingly expensive resources – so we can fish, swim, or hike and drive around pretending that we’re a world away from the Bay Area pressures.
But water is an issue, and growth does not create water prosperity. Water is our economy in Butte County, being at least as foundational to agriculture as land. Water is life, and I must say I am thankful for last week’s cool storm.
Prosperity Versus Growth was published in the Paradise Post on March 7, 2018.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.